No Show! — Really? (Part 1)

iStock_no show (800x585)Have you ever had a client “no show” for a critical appointment? A “sure bet” job interview? A required group meeting? If the answer is “no” then you probably work at the bank down the street because you could not possibly work in re-entry, human services or any public agency that provides support to people who are unemployed, homeless or otherwise troubled. “No Shows” are unfortunately much too common and despite heavy handed sanctions and other policies they seem to persist. Even though we know that this comes with the territory, we still can’t help but get irritated every time it happens!

The fact that some clients totally bail at the most unexpected times is only puzzling if you don’t understand the nature of fear and avoidance. After all, why wouldn’t people needing help will be responsive, cooperative and doing everything required to move ahead? Right? On paper that sounds like a reasonable expectation. In reality however, where survival is made up of many very complex components, it’s not that simple.

If you consider for a minute that all actions and behaviors come from a place of well thought out and reasoned “logic” – at first blush, a client avoiding actions that will improve their situation would seem to defy that assumption. Truly, how can not showing up for a critical appointment, interview or other mandated activity be logical? Well it can be because the human mind is a very complex piece of machinery honed to find that straight line to “survival” as fast as possible by bypassing any possible complications along the way. In a nutshell – your client’s “No Show” behavior last week didn’t just happen as a passing thought – it was the result of some complex and unconscious mental calculations designed to help them survive on either a physical or emotional level. As strange as that sounds.

Case in point: Let’s say you have a re-entry client that has just put in a tremendous amount of effort to complete job training, got their GED, went through all of the work required for job search and job preparation and finally gets an interview. This is not just any interview; it’s the “mother of all interviews” that they were really fortunate to get, for a job that is perfect. When they land this job – they will be the rock star success story of the year. After watching them put in all the work, watching them meet all the challenges that come with their previous offender status and giving them tons of encouragement and coaching and the support, you’re thinking that they are on their way. Interview day comes and goes. They are nowhere to be found. The employer is mystified and miffed. You are perplexed and disappointed. Who saw this coming?

Actually, you will see this coming next time. In fact, if you replay your entire engagement with them, you may see things that you did not notice before. “No Shows” send signals.

The biggest signal is a slowing of momentum. Often when people are sheltered in an environment of support, they may show a tremendous amount of energy and engagement as long as they are in the land of “preparation.” The primary expectation of a client in a job training program, an educational program, a prison transition program or a half-way house is that they will use this time to “prepare for launch” so to speak. However, once they start getting close to their last few months before release, or the end of their training program or the end of their educational pursuit, resistant behavior may start showing up. Suddenly, they are no longer in the protected land of “safety and preparation” – they are entering the land of “performance and accountability”. For someone who has never been successful in the land of “performance and accountability”– this will mostly likely bring up fear, insecurity, avoidance and in some cases even sabotage. The subconscious goal here is to find a way as quickly as possible to back away from that cliff of being out there on their own and (in their minds) failing. Sometimes the fastest way to succeed in getting back to “safety” is to fail in “launch”. One way to fail spectacularly in launch is to no-show and disappear. Problem solved. Makes total absolute sense.

So what can you do to help? Here are some thoughts:

Anticipate the momentum shift before it happens. When you have a client that is highly engaged in the early stages of preparation, use this time of safety to challenge and encourage them to grow. Encourage them to try new things, set and track goals and to start building a clear picture of the kind of life they really want to build. These concepts are much less threatening during this time of safety and starting to build momentum now can help carry them through the uncertainty of the future.

Discuss their concerns as well as the idea of independence and the positive aspects of being on their own. While it’s easy to stay focused on the “here and now”, it’s the fear of the future that will most likely derail their plans. Critical to moving from dependence to self-sufficiency is being able to identify positively with a distant future in which they are safe and successful. This means taking every opportunity to talk and encourage their future plans to help “demystify” what life will look like when they are there on their own.

Tune in next week for Part 2: No Shows Happen: What to Do Next!

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